Fun with Chinese: Words you can’t use on weibo
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Fun with Chinese: Words you can’t use on weibo

A US student collects the words that you can’t use on China’s Twitter, reports Asia Sentinel

If you’re chatting in Chinese on weibo, the enormously popular network of microblogs that make up China’s version to Twitter, and you mention, for instance, an obituary (fùgào) of a friend or public figure, you are going to find the word blocked.

Why? Nobody knows for sure, unless it was because of the false reporting of the death of former President Jiang Zemin, or perhaps the rumor that North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong-un, had been assassinated. Or maybe not.

There have been legions of stories of the Chinese authorities’ exotic approach to the blockage of words on weibo, which has a vast corps of censors watching to make sure no sensitive words slip through. Jason Q. Ng, a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, set out to try to catalogue all the blocked words he could find and to provide possible reasons for the blockage. His efforts can be found at “Blocked on Weibo. For some insights into the sometimes fantastical thinking of China’s censors, it’s worth looking into.

“I finally finished searching through the 700,000 Chinese Wikipedia keywords last month and have verified 1,000-plus unique words to be blocked, but the posting of logs and lists of banned words are temporarily on hold as I try and sort through the data and clean it up,” he wrote on his blog. He found data on Weibo, Google Translate, and Wikipedia, he says, adding “Please note, the translations were automatically generated and have not been checked for accuracy. Full lists of words searched are in individual log posts. “

Some words, he writes, are blocked and later turn out to be unblocked. “Of the 1,300 mostly unique words I found to be unsearchable in my initial test in Nov/Dec 2011, 933 were subsequently unblocked some time in late-January to early-February 2012,” he writes. “But apparently, that was an overreach and as of this morning, 393 of those 933 have been re-blocked (words which include 五毛 [Fifty Cent Party], 轮奸 [gang rape/gangbang], and 梯恩梯 [TNT], among others).

Many blockages are obscure. Deauville (duōwéi’ěr) is the name of a seaside resort city in France that each year hosts the Deauville American Film Festival along with the lesser well-known but similarly respected Deauville Asian Film Festival. Apparently, he writes, “Deauville has screened a number of incredibly raw Chinese films that engage sensitive contemporary topics. The 2010 Grand Prize winner, Judge, is about a death row inmate and the judge who controls his fate. The 2003 winner, Blind Shaft, is a brutal depiction of life as a coal miner in northern China and was banned in the PRC.

Continue reading at Asia Sentinel